Just a little bit north of Dodger Stadium, there’s a growing art community on the banks of the Los Angeles River. The neighborhood known as Frogtown has a population of about 7,000 people, and it’s rapidly changing due to the city’s plans to revitalize the river and its surroundings. As longtime residents worry about gentrification and rising real estate prices, the area has become a magnet for artists of all sorts.
Gardens & Villa is an indie rock band from Santa Barbara that found inspiration for its new album, "Music for Dogs," from living in Frogtown. Spurred on by the creative energy of the neighborhood, the band built a compound with a dozen other artists, where they all live and work.
The Frame’s James Kim visited Frogtown and spoke with songwriters Adam Rasmussen and Chris Lynch to find out how the local environment shapes the music of Gardens & Villa.
The members of Gardens & Villa haven't always lived in a warehouse on the Los Angeles River. Before they were in Frogtown, they were living in a warehouse in Glassell Park, a nearby neighborhood in northeast Los Angeles. But then, as Chris Lynch confesses, they were all evicted about a year ago. And thus — Frogtown and a new warehouse.
I feel like we're living in a really inspiring environment. There's not a lot of traditional comforts — we live in a warehouse and we share two showers between 12 people. But all expression, really, is a reflection of where you're at. — Adam Rasmussen
At first, that expression was about the angst and uncertainty that came from being evicted. Their new song, "Paradise," for example, centers on the line, "I'm gonna find my paradise," which Lynch says was almost like a mantra for the band. But then they took a risk and signed a seven-year lease on a warehouse in Frogtown.
Of course, warehouses generally aren't equipped for immediate occupation, so the band had a lot of projects to immediately overcome. First, "there were decades of spider nests and funky, weird, alien bugs," that Lynch had never seen before. Or there was the time they had to spend days scraping up tar to build a working bathroom.
Any question we had, like, "How do you install a toilet," led to a lot of YouTube videos. We just threw it all together and figured everything out. We didn't know how to do anything before we moved in here. We just figured it out. — Chris Lynch
They both list the things they've added to their warehouse home: they got a dog, they set up a disco ball, and sometimes they host roller skate parties. As Lynch puts it: "I think living in a warehouse is like living in a giant blank canvas."
It also helps if that blank canvas is located on a river. As Rasmussen points out: "The water's really peaceful. If I'm ever having a crazy day, I can come down to the river. It takes five to 10 minutes, but I can literally feel a physical change in my body."
But it's about more than just carving out a space for themselves; it's about finding a place within a larger community, one that actively affects the music of Gardens & Villa. Rasmussen remembers that one time he heard some mariachi music drifting in from outside. So he put it in a song.
Towards the end of the record on the song "Happy Times," the mariachi sample actually comes from across the street — it's maybe the best Salvadorian restaurant in East LA, Salvamex, and I heard this beautiful music so I just got my iPhone out and started recording. — Adam Rasmussen
Maybe Gardens & Villa are more active about taking inspiration from their surroundings, but they argue that people's art always reflects their environment — or, as Lynch puts it: "If you're an artist, you're basically a sponge. And if you lock yourself up in your room, you're probably going to make art that reflects isolation, not just mentally but also physiologically. We're constantly absorbing our environments."